'Christmas miracle' - how Ipswich man survived near fatal Christmas Day heart attack
PUBLISHED: 18:56 26 December 2019 | UPDATED: 18:56 26 December 2019
A family who nearly lost a beloved father and husband when he had a near fatal heart attack on Christmas Day have said his survival was a "Christmas miracle".
Ivan Spilling had been enjoying mince pies and watching television in the lounge when disaster struck at around 4pm on December 25 2017.
The first his wife Wendy realised there was a problem was when she said to him: "Get your head up," but got no response.
Panicking, she struggled to move his body and put a cushion behind his back while calling 999.
"I was panicking because there was no movement and I couldn't see him breathing," she said, also calling her son Martin and daughter-in-law Teresa.
"I thought he had completely gone."
As an ambulance arrived, the family had to desperately move furniture out of the way to make way for a trolley to take Mr Spilling to Ipswich Hospital.
"When we got to hospital, they said they would have to put him on a life support machine," said Mrs Spilling.
"A consultant came out and they said he had 48 hours."
But Mr Spilling's family never gave up hope, with his son continuing to talk to him at his bedside.
"All of a sudden, Martin said: 'He's talking,'" said Mrs Spilling.
"I said: 'Are you sure?' and he was. I just couldn't believe it.
"I went to get a nurse and she stood here and said: 'I don't believe it.'
"The doctor then looked over and said: 'I really don't believe it. It must be a Christmas miracle.'"
Mrs Spilling said of the staff at Ipswich Hospital: "He put his life in their hands. We can't fault the hospital for the care he's received."
Mr Spilling, who had already suffered a heart attack several years earlier, stayed at the Heath Road hospital for weeks while recovering.
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He later had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, which will kick in to support the 77-year-old's heart should it stop beating.
Fortunately, the pacemaker has never needed to kick into action - but it gives Mr Spilling and his family peace of mind to know it is there.
"I'm just leading a normal life, as I did before this happened," he said.
"You wouldn't have though anything had changed. It's unbelievable really."
He added: "The care I've received has been fantastic - I couldn't fault it in any way, shape or form.
"The team is absolutely brilliant and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here now.
"I'm extremely thankful for what they have done for me."
Mr Spilling also attends Ipswich Hospital's cardiac rhythm management (CRM) support group, which meets every three months, to give help and advice to those who have had a pacemaker fitted.
Around 40 people attend the group, which has been running for a year and gives patients the chance to share their experiences, ask questions and offer mutual support in a relaxed and friendly environment.
There are also opportunities to listen to expert speakers such as specialist nurses, physiologists and pacemaker technicians.
"The support group is exceptionally good," Mr Spilling said.
"Every meeting has been really informative and they are always happy to answer questions. It also gives you the chance to speak to others in a similar situation.
"I would encourage anyone else who has a pacemaker to go along. I think people get nervous and concerned when they are told they need a pacemaker as they don't know how it will impact on them.
"Coming to the group will help dispel those myths by giving you all the information you need. It's well worth it and I would recommend it to anyone."
The group is run by Nicola Chalk, chief cardiac physiologist, and Sam Clarke, principal cardiac physiologist, who both work for East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Ipswich Hospital.
"The support group has quadrupled in size since it launched, and the feedback we've received has been excellent," said Ms Chalk.
"Patients are really grateful to have the opportunity to listen to our experts and chat to others, and are always keen to come back to future sessions.
"We would encourage anyone who has a device fitted to come to our next meeting and find out more about living well with a pacemaker."
For more information about the group, visit the ESNEFT website and search for CRM.